When Michael Brown, a black teenager, was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, a special White House council quickly offered a wave of reforms that are expected to guide police through the harshest encounters.
The 21st Century Presidential Police Working Group made 59 recommendations, following the testimony of 140 witnesses.
“Building trust and legitimacy on both sides of the police-citizen divide is not only the first pillar of this working group’s report, but also a fundamental principle underlying this investigation into the nature of the relationship between the law and the communities they serve,” the study group concluded.
Only six years later, the findings in what was then considered a significant analysis of modern policing were obscured by a new wave of deadly actions that renewed calls for a review of U.S. laws.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, found guilty of killing George Floyd, now represents just one piece of evidence in a growing series of evidence in which the use of deadly force by police officers faces unprecedented public investigation, conviction and demands for change.
Minnesota Chief Prosecutor Keith Ellison, in a statement immediately after the verdict, said the decisions represent a new era of police accountability that ends “repeated and permanent deaths by law enforcement.”
‘We haven’t learned anything’
During the 14-day trial of Chauvin, new images of fatal police encounters in Chicago; Brooklyn Center, Minnesota; and elsewhere they competed with the already familiar videos of Floyd advocating for life while he was pinned under Chauvin’s knee.
“It’s like we haven’t learned anything,” said Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University who studies crimes involving police. “I don’t know if we’ve made any significant progress” from the 2015 White House police report.
Still, Stinson and other analysts say the findings cited in a study commissioned by the Obama administration are more likely to be more relevant than at the time they were published.
“If you go back to that report, I think you’ll find that there’s a lot of meat left on that bone,” Stinson said. “There’s a lot to do here.”
Clash with the system, breakthrough in the ‘blue wall’
During closing arguments at Chauvin’s trial on Monday, Minneapolis prosecutor Steve Schleicher tried to separate the murder case against the former police officer from the referendum against U.S. police.
“To be clear, this case is called the state of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin,” the prosecutor told the jury. “This is not called the state of Minnesota against the police.”
But Samuel Walker, an emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, said the wider implications of the case and the police as a whole cannot be ignored.
“Outwardly, the prosecutor’s argument is true,” Walker said. “But I think the public’s focus on related police issues is very widespread and deep. … I think there will be an answer and mayors and governors will demand more police reform.”
Since Floyd’s death in May, Walker said he has followed the reaction of the community in the country’s 50 largest cities, concluding that local officials have approved a series of changes in law enforcement tactics, from bans on police suffocation to bans on so-called “no-knock orders.” which led to the death of a Kentucky woman, Breonne Taylor, during a police raid last year.
Walker said 84% of cities approved at least some changes to local law enforcement policy or operations in just four months, between Remembrance Day and Labor Day, last year.
“I am optimistic” that the pace of reforms will continue after Chauvin, Walker said.
The professor also noted that Chauvin’s trial, especially the testimony of Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other city commanders who condemned the policeman’s tactics, was an important break from the traditional so-called “blue wall of silence” in which police are reluctant to criticize fellow witnesses. against them in criminal trials.
“That the command officers were willing to testify set a remarkable precedent,” Walker said. “You can’t downplay that and what it signals to other police chiefs.”
David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who writes extensively on police behavior, said any review of law enforcement operations must include shifting responsibility for calls involving the homeless, the mentally ill, and even traffic irregularities, away from the police.
“We just don’t need people with guns and handcuffs for everything,” Harris said. “But any measure of future success must involve a showdown with the system that brought us here.”
‘Guardian – not warrior – way of thinking’
Until Floyd’s death last year, no brighter public light was thrown on aggressive police action than after Brown’s death in the suburbs of St. Louis. Louis in Ferguson.
Provocative law enforcement tactics, especially those used to alleviate civil unrest after Brown’s death, prompted the formation of a presidential working group that issued a national warning of potential dangers when police agencies lose the trust of the communities they serve.
“A culture of law enforcement should embrace the thinking of guardians, not warriors, in order to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public,” the working group concluded. “Law enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming from outside to rule and control the community.”
Every aspect of the police, from crime reduction to officer training, depends on that trust, the working group found.
The brutal manner and public nature of Floyd’s death represent a new call to action that builds on Ferguson’s lessons, Harris said.
“The idea that police officers are warriors means that a certain number of victims are acceptable in war,” Harris said. “It has no place in law enforcement. It just has to go.”
18,000 police agencies in the United States
Laurie Robinson, a former assistant attorney general who co-chaired the police task force, said there were “high hopes” that the work of the task force would change.
“But we realized because of the decentralized nature of the police (there are an estimated 18,000 police agencies) that this will not bring an accelerated solution,” Robinson said. “This is going to be a long road.”
“The next step in policing must involve putting pressure on law enforcement and unions,” said Robinson, now a professor of criminology, law and society at George Mason University. “They’ll have to think long and hard about what lessons have been learned.”
At the end of the 2015 working group, Robinson recalled that then-President Barack Obama asked her and co-chair Charles Ramsey, a former police chief in Washington DC and Philadelphia, if there was an aspect of law enforcement that required more scrutiny.
Robinson said that they immediately agreed that a closer study of employment and the employment of officers is needed.
“If one more thing needed to be added, more attention was paid to who is being introduced to the police and what kind of officers will be promoted in police departments from now on,” she said. “It’s fundamental to the relationship between police officers and their communities.”
Jim Burch, president of the National Police Foundation, which is in the middle of examining the implementation of the Obama administration’s report, described the document as a “compass” for law enforcement.
“It’s not that we don’t know what to do,” Burch said. “It’s just that we didn’t have the courage to do it.”
The civil rights group Color of Change said its 7 million members would follow closely.
“The trial of Chauvin may be over, but what follows will be the last moment in our history,” Color of Change President Rashad Robinson said in a statement. “When you invoke injustice, your ears are on you; when you reinforce our message of justice and fairness, decision-makers notice it; when you stop funding the police and their providers, heads turn; and when you use your power to demand systemic change, blacks will be safe in our country. “